The many angles of technology and human-oriented design

News – 6 September 2022

From an early career in experimental psychology to Professor of Information Ergonomics at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering (IDE) at TU Delft, Professor Huib de Ridder has learned that there are many ways of looking at things. But one point has always been central: It all starts with people.

In honor of his retirement, a symposium will be held on 9 September 2022 under the theme “Informational Ergonomics: where perception and cognition meet technology & design”. De Ridder also gives a farewell speech. To attend this special event in person, please this link follow. You can follow the live stream here at 15:00 on Thursday 9 September.

People who design design

Human angle

Before coming to Delft in 1998, De Ridder did research in image quality measurements at the Vision Group of the Institute for Perception Research (IPO) in Eindhoven. In a team of computer scientists and engineers, he was the lone psychologist. “I had to somehow survive there,” he said. “I felt that my role was to defend people in these kinds of processes, because they had to build things with the idea that people would eventually fit in. I always emphasized that you have to look first at the people who need that or for which the product is made.”

De Ridder believed that it was a natural way of working to try to convince people to see things from a different point of view. It also meant learning to communicate and cooperate with people from the other side. “It’s nice when you can convince other people to see relationships and then you can move on to the next phase of a project,” he said.

Huib looks through the lens of his camera

Spoiled by design

That experience came in handy for de Ridder when he moved to Delft University of Technology to lead the Human Information Communication Design (HICD) group at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering (IDE), which included researchers with backgrounds in industrial and graphic design, physics, computer science , psychology and ergonomics. His work focuses on understanding human behavior in context, focusing on human perception and human information processing. In short: how we take in information and how we process it so that we can do something about it.

In Delft, De Ridder learned to use these things. “My background is in experimental psychology, but it’s impossible to go back to psychology now,” he said. “I’m totally spoiled by designers who really look for practical solutions and it forces you to think about more fundamental things. Why do we come up with certain solutions and why do they work?”

Development of a laboratory

With a growing group of people interested in perception research, de Ridder co-founded the Delft Perceptual Intelligence Lab (π-Lab) in 2008. This collaboration between the Man Machine Interaction (MMI) department at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science and the HICD group for Industrial Design Engineering started with vision-related research but has evolved over the years. “It was part of my dream that it should not be with one sense,” says de Ridder, “but a very holistic approach to a person.”

Professor Huib de Ridder works with a device

Professor Sylvia Pont (Perceptual Intelligence), who has a background in experimental physics and psychology, currently heads the π-Lab. This interdisciplinary team has expertise in visual, haptic, auditory and olfactory perception and design, as well as cognitive ergonomics. Pont says the lab is an example of De Ridder’s ability to connect people. “He has helped me and others develop lines of research in design, make contact with other groups and get projects off the ground,” she says. “I think those are some of his great contributions.”

Now, with experts for all senses and cognition on board, De Ridder’s dream is becoming a reality, and Pont says the π lab is ready for the scientific challenges ahead. The team will explore natural multimodal interactions with products, services and systems in their full ecological complexity in real, mixed and virtual environments – researching design for perception and perception-based design.

Team building and technology

De Ridder helped ensure that Pont and her group moved from Utrecht University to TU Delft in 2008. “When I started as an assistant professor,” says Pont, “he was a coach and mentor to me. He helped me find way in Delft and in design. He helped me see possibilities and also convinced me that I was capable of some things that I didn’t think I was ready for.”

Lecturer René van Egmond (Cognitive Ergonomics) came to work at TU Delft a few years after De Ridder. “Huib had a small group and could use some support, so he asked me to join his group, given our mutual background in experimental psychology,” said van Egmond. While De Ridder focused on vision research, van Egmond focused on sound design and perception. Van Egmond says that they have been sparring partners for each other for years. “We were able to talk about a level of research and how to do it and what the interesting questions to ask are.”

According to Van Egmond, De Ridder is someone who likes to involve the hard sciences, which has resulted in numerous collaborations with other faculties and external partners. “Something he really stood for is that we as TU Delft faculty must always involve technology as much as possible,” he says. “The other faculties think a lot about technology, but not necessarily about people. At our faculty, you really have an amalgamation of both parts, where you try to optimize both worlds, how technology sees the world and how we as humans see the world/feel it. /feel.”

Inspiring students

Over the years, De Ridder has also taught and advised many students. Dr. Fan Zhang considers himself lucky to have had De Ridder as a co-promoter along with Professor Pont. Although Pont Zhangs was a daily supervisor, the three met weekly. “I feel like I had the privilege of meeting Huib more often than many other PhD students with their full professors, and that has helped me a lot,” Zhang says.

From a background in engineering and robotics to the field of human-centered design, he said De Ridder provided a lot of guidance. “One of the most important things I learned from him is the way you look at experimental design and data analysis,” he said. “Before you start an experiment, you have some plans to process your data, but if you get unexpected results, you may need to analyze and interpret the data differently. I have used all kinds of data analysis in my PhD work, partly inspired by him and I learned a lot from him.”

Pont agreed, saying, “Huib has made me aware that really playing with data, using multiple methods, can help you find different perspectives on things. It’s important to go beyond the boundaries of your own field. See to broaden your perspectives.”

Personal collaborations

A unique collaboration for De Ridder was the opportunity to occasionally work with his wife, whom he met when they were both studying psychology. Dr. Hanneke de Ridder-Sluiter, a developmental psychologist who worked with deaf/hard of hearing children and later in pediatric oncology, has helped inspire several projects. “What I did in Delft was think of solutions and end up with a prototype, but that was it,” says de Ridder. “She is really practical, and thanks to her way of looking at issues and opportunities, we have been able to realize certain products.”

One of these projects was Vika, an interactive wall for children in the Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology in Utrecht. With rotating elements, the wall encourages children in the hospital to get out of bed and move around. The idea came from the faculty, but according to De Ridder, his wife was the driving force to realize the project. The project was shown as an example at Dutch Design Week in 2015.

Vika – An interactive installation designed in the Interactive Environments minor at TUDelft

Stay connected

Now that he is retiring, de Ridder hopes to stay in touch with people and projects at TU Delft. He is still actively involved in a project with Van Egmond, the Holland Proton Therapy Center (Holland PTC), where they use artificial intelligence to optimize the workflow of radiation therapists and radiologists.

De Ridder also said, “I have a couple of ongoing PhD projects and I want to write and work with Sylvia. Through the π lab, I learned how art can teach us how to see the world, and that’s something I will go into detail. If they allow me to stay in this community, I would be happy to be associated for several years.”

If it is up to his colleagues, the door will be open as long as the Knight wishes.

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